More Than 1,000 Attend St. James Reopening

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LAKEWOOD, Ohio -- Some local parishioners say their prayers have been answered.  Their once-closed church held its first mass since The Vatican ordered that it be reopened.

Excited parishioners returned to St. James Church in Lakewood Wednesday for the first mass held here more than two years.

"I'm living in Georgia now, but I came back just to be here for this first mass," said Richard Elias, who grew up going to St. James.

Elias' mother, 81-year-old Ethel Elias, has brought her family to St. James since 1967. She wrote a letter to the pope, asking to have the church reopened.  She has since had a stroke, but her children say she would not miss this day.

"I didn't think this was gonna happen. I told her a few years ago before what happened to her happened, I said, 'Mom, this isn't gonna happen, this church is not reopening, it's just not gonna happen,' I was wrong mom, I was wrong big time," said Richard Elias.

"She'd walk down to mass and come down to say the rosary every day down here when she was living at the house," said Ethel Elias' daughter, Theresa Hess.

More than 1,000 parishioners attend the reopening mass at St. James Church in Lakewood. (Photo Credit: Fox 8 News)

Inside St. James, there was standing room only as more than a 1,000 members and supporters from other reopened parishes packed the church. When the service began, the congregation gave a long, thunderous applause.

St. James was one of dozens of local parishes that Bishop Richard Lennon ordered shut down, saying they were too costly to keep open and had declining memberships. Thirteen churches, including St. James, appealed to the Vatican and won.

"Right now, it's like, 'Pinch me,' you know, it doesn't feel real because it's been so long and we were so sad two and a half years ago and we're so happy today," said parishioner Larry Johancen.

"Even some people who said that they have moved on to other parishes are coming for the opening because they are thrilled for us, they're very happy because they loved the church and the church nurtured them for years, and they're happy that it's being reopened," said parishioner Toni Sabo.

St. James has a new priest because the former pastor retired.

The church can also be seen in the latest edition of Preservation magazine.